You may think you just got lucky finding a factory that would develop your patterns and make you samples for free as part of your production order. What you might not realize is that those “free” samples and development will cost you in other ways.
Development is not free. If you aren’t the one paying for it, then someone else is. If your factory isn’t charging you for patterns and development, it is because of one of these scenarios. They might be fronting the development cost in anticipation of big ongoing orders from you. Or they might have their own private label line and are offering you a style from that line. In the later case, the development cost is being spread out across all the brands that buy that private label style and the style is not exclusive to you. If the factory is disreputable, they might be offering you a style owned and developed by one of their other customers. (I’d like to think no factory would do this, but it could be a possibility.)
In any of these cases, if you aren’t paying for patterns as a separate line item from your production order, you don’t own the rights to your patterns. The factory owns the patterns and is just making your production order on spec for you. If you ever want to switch factories down the road, you won’t be able to take the patterns with you and you’ll have to start development all over again with the new factory or hire an independent patternmaker to work with.
Aside from the hassle of starting over on development, you also will lose time having to reverse engineer your product. Fashion moves fast and depending on the complexity of your product, the delay can have a real negative impact on your sales and business. Product consistency is another issue. If you liked the fit and quality of the style from your first factory, it can be tricky and complicated to duplicate that exact fit again and get the garment just how you and your customers like it.
Even though you didn’t pay for patterns and development in the beginning, you will have to at the point when you want to move on to a new factory. Providing a finished sample garment to the new factory or patternmaker will not make pattern development any cheaper than starting from zero, either. A pattern is a production tool used to create your garment with consistency and quality fit, and a finished garment can’t be used in its place. The pattern tool will have to be re-developed.
So how do you avoid getting trapped in this situation? Make sure you are the one paying for patterns and development and communicate openly with your factory or patternmaker. Ask who will own the finished patterns and clarify how you will be charged for patternmaking, development, and sampling versus production.